Saturday, December 31, 2011

Best Albums of 2011 (Korean and Otherwise)

Korean Music:

Unfortunately, there were only a couple of albums that came out this year from bands that I know about.  Of course, there could have been some awesome ones, and I just didn't know about it cuz I live in Suwon, and I usually don't like riding on a bus for an hour and a subway for another 20 minutes very often.  Okay....I'm lazy.  I should make the effort to find out about more bands, I just don't cuz I'd rather sit in my room drinking Hite Dry Finish and updating a blog that never gets read.  Okay, well, if you know of some other albums that I missed, please let me know.  Here's the two I like.

Itta - "Discover" & 10 - "Natureplex" - If I had to pick one over the other, it would be the Itta record.  It came out late, but it's pretty great.  All covers, and mostly just her on keys and organ and whatnot.  I have to admit, I never noticed the Nico influence in anything by 10 (10 - or (((10))) now - is her other band with her Japanese husband) but that influence really stands out on her solo record.  She even does a cover of Nico's version of The Doors "The End".  Other covers: Portishead, Blonde Redhead, Yoko Ono, and Lee Sang Eun, the latter of which is a recent, er, discovery for me.  I looked her up, listened to a couple of songs, and ordered her record which I need to pick up.  The 10 record is more psychedelic, and freaked out.  Maybe Hawkwind or Acid Mothers Temple comes to mind, but it's not really.  Early Animal Collective might be better suited, but, this is better.  Animal Collective is overrated, and their early stuff was hit or miss as well.  You can get the Itta record by just asking her:  There will be a paypal link she will send you to donate for it.  I highly recommend doing that....even though I haven't done it myself.  Shame on me.

Korean reissues & compilations:

1) various "Beautiful Rivers & Mountains: The Psychedelic Rock Sound of South Korea's Shin Joong Hyun 1958-1974" & "Where to Where" digital download - I've already written about this guy in another post.  It rules, and you should get it if you are at all interested in the history of early Asian rock music.  Tons of good shit.

2) Add4 "The Add4 First Album" - Shin Joong Hyun started his own record label this year, and is reissuing a bunch of out of print oldies that he was responsible for.  They're all housed the same way: a jewel case cd glued inside of a hardcover book with the album cover and stuff on it.  It's all very shoddy looking in a cool, low budget sort of way.  I mean, the book part is cool, but the design cool.  This is his first album with the first Korean rock band, and it rules.  It feels like the first time I discovered the Skatalites, and just thinking about how soulful, beautiful, and unique they sounded.  Well, the Add4 gives me the same feeling.  The Pearl Sisters, Kim Jung Mi, and many others were also reissued.  If you live in Korea, you can get them at Kyobo Books.  Kyobo is a chain, though, but you might be able to find them at other record stores in Hongdae like Purple or Metavox.

3) The Hee Sisters (희자매) "DisKo Girls: The Anta Records Years Anthology 1978-1980" - Disco/Trot.  Some of this stuff is actually straight up trot, but the disco influence definitely comes out in other tracks.  This is great stuff, even if you don't like trot music, but, really, you probably should.  Especially if you live in Korea, asshole.  Dig into it.  It's like a Korean version of tejano/conjunto music. And conjunto music absorbed disco music just like trot did.  This is a 3cd compilation housed in a really fantastic package.  It's a book (like the Shin Joong Hyun comps) but the layout is amazing.  The hardcover is bigger.  The pages are rich with period era photos and liner notes (mostly in Korean, but there are a few pages of English liner notes), and, best of all, facsimiles of the original album covers.  PLUS DATES!  Yes, the tracks are dated, or if you can read Korean, you can figure out the dates.  I need dates, and I obsess over when music was released.  Overall, excellent package, and you can get it at Dusty Grooves in the states.  Includes the only song that goes slow enough that I can sing it at the Noraebangs (karaoke) rooms in Korea: "실버들".  The only thing that brings this package down is the third disc of "remixes" which does feature DJ Soulscape, who does excellent mixes of classic Korean music.  However, most of this is all hip hop style, and I barely listened to it.  It woulda been cool if they did some edits of some of this stuff and let the riddim flow for a while.  Me thinking out loud.

4) Kim Jung Mi (김정미) "Now" - Did this get reissued stateside?  I think it did, and if that's the case, please buy this.  This is such a great record.  Maybe my favorite featuring Shin Joong Hyun on guitar, and Kim is an amazing singer.  Beautiful psych/folk record from 1973.

5) April & May (4월과5월) "40th Anniversary" - Double disc of material from 1973-1979 of this male folk duo.  Recently another compilation called "Best of" has started making the rounds in the states, and even got a write up in Aquarius Records.  That album cover has the duo running through the grass hand in hand.  Awesome cover, as Aquarius also mentioned.  This one here is a whole double disc covering a much greater range of their material.  I've only given it a once through, but it's quite good, but that other compilation is probably more readily available if you're living stateside.  Plus the album cover is cooler.

Other Music:

1. John Maus "We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves" - I listened to this record a crap load of times.  I liked his stuff before, but I really love this record.  Psychedelic, weird, 80s influenced synth pop/synth wave type stuff.  Amazing songs.

2.  Prurient "Bermuda Drain" - Another amazing record that wears its 80s influences on its sleeve.  This time, the industrial/noise/EBM elements.  If you don't know Prurient, then this is maybe the best place to start.  However, I can't heartily recommend his other material.  Some of which I like (the droney, weirdo stuff), but the screechy, feedbacky noise stuff is too much to handle.  He did a few other things this year as well that might be more under the 'experimental' tag: "Annihilationist" and "Despiritualized."  All of these represent his most 'accessible' side.  But all awesome.  "Bermuda Drain" is disturbing and amazing. (see also Vatican Shadow)

3.  The Psychic Paramount "II" - Power trio of instrumental rock.  Psychedelic, repetitive, noisy.  All the things I love.  Great record.  Maybe should be number 1.

4.  Cold Cave "Cherish the Light Years" - Another 80s referencing record.  I never cared for their stuff before, but I love this record.  Also featuring Dominick Fernow of Prurient, but with less of the noise, and more of the pop.  Super stadium sized pop.  Like New Order and the Jesus & Mary Chain and U2 all rolled up.  Damn good.

5.  Bill Callahan "Apocalypse" - I love Smog and I love his stuff under his own name.  His lyrics are awesome, and he rules.  I saw him when I was back in Texas last summer, and it was great.  One of the best songwriters of all time.  Believe it!

6.  High Spirits "Another Night" - NWOBHM worshipping project from Chris "Professor" Black who also destroys under Dawnbringer.  If you like classic metal with tons of hooks, then this is it.

7.  Andy Stott "Passed Me By" - More like an ep, but it's a supplement to his other ep this year, "We Stay Together" which I haven't heard yet.  This is dark, dirty, sludgy techno in the best possible ways.

8.  Leyland Kirby "Eager to Tear Apart" & The Caretaker "An Empty Bliss Beyond This World" - I hear the word "hauntology" applied to Kirby's Caretaker project quite a bit.  And if you're wondering what that means, think about The Shining's haunted ballroom music.  That's pretty much it.  Looped, vinyl pops, sounds like a haunted house.  Great stuff.  His "Eager to Tear Apart" stuff is different.  Previously it was along the lines of Harold Budd or Erik Satie, but this newer stuff is busier with more electronics added.  All good.

9.  James Blake "James Blake" - I like it.  I think it's damn good.  He's gonna be getting more and more hate as he keeps doing the singer songwriter thing, but the combination of bass pressure and pretty melodies is hard to beat in my opinion.

10. All Pigs Must Die "God is War" & Trap Them "Darker Handcraft" - Decided to put these two hardcore records together because they seem to traffic in the same influences: Neurosis, His Hero is Gone, Converge, From Ashes Rise.  Great stuff, but I think I pick the Trap Them record slightly above All Pigs Must Die.  Both are better than the overrated Tombs album.

Texas records:

1.  Absu "Abzu" - Absu is awesome prog/black metal.  This record isn't quite as great as their previous, but still good.

2.  Josh T. Pearson "Last of the Country Gentlemen" - Pearson used to be in Lift to Experience, and creates expansive folk depression like no other.  He's a good guy.  Eat  a salad with him.

3.  True Widow "As High as the Highest Heavens..." - True Widow creates heavy rock n roll.  Like Codeine but with a stronger metal fixation.

4.  Old Snack  "Everything is Happening So Fast" -  Old Snack is like classic power pop.  Think about the Raspberries, Badfinger, and Big Star at their most rock n roll, as well as the Flaming Groovies and current rockers like Jaill.  You know you want to hear it.  Get it here.

Reissues & compilations:

1. various "The Hidden Tapes" - Another excellent compilation from the Minimal Wave label.  More obscure synth pop/synthwave/coldwave from the early to mid 80s.

2. various "Tempo Explosion" - One riddim album put together by Dug Out; the label run by Mark Ernestus formerly of Basic Channel/Rhythm & Sound and Honest Jon's.  All based on the Tempo riddim that came out of King Tubby's in '86 and made famous by Anthony Redrose.  I still say his version is the best, but anything with that rhythm is okay by me.  Features legends Sugar Minott and Willie Williams.  All tracks date from '86, but I believe come from Sugar Minott's label, and not Tubby's.

3. Bunny Lee & the Agrovators "Dub Will Change Your Mind" - Obscure Bunny Lee productions compiled by ex-Blood & Fire employees for their new label King Spinna.  Pretty sure King Tubby does all the dubs on here, but I don't have the liner notes.  Nice to see there's still excellent stuff ready to be dug up from the 1970s reggae vaults.

4. Demdike Stare "Tryptych" - A compilation of three vinyl only lp's from 2010 as a 3 cd set.  Demdike Stare is....hard to describe.  Ambient, soundtracks, techno, even a bit of afro-beat gets mixed in there.  I frequently take naps at work with this thing playing.

Is that it?  No.  Here's some stuff that didn't make the lists, but that had varying degrees of goodness: Mark Ernestus "Meets BBC" (actually a single); Moritz von Oswald Trio "Horizontal Structure"; Vladislav Delay Quartet "s/t"; Wolves in the Throne Room "Celestial Lineage"*; Deepchord "Hash Bar Loops"; Jesu "Ascension"; Tim Hecker "Ravedeath, 1972"; Toxic Holocaust "Conjure and Command"*; Hype Williams "One Nation"; Book of Black Earth "The Cold Testament"; Moon Duo "Mazes"; Mutilation Rites "s/t"; Chris Watson "El Tren Fantasma"*; Blut Aus Nord "777 - Sect(s)"*; Vatican Shadow "Kneel Before Religious Icons"*.

* means that it probably could have made a top 15.


  1. hello...! you have to check Kang-tae hwan's new album.

  2. Thanks. I didn't know he had a new one out.

  3. if you like folk music, check dringe augh.. or kim mokin.

  4. Thanks. I haven't heard of them. Do they play in Hongdae often?